Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tell the EPA Why a Strong Chemical Disaster Rule is Vital: A Public Comment Guide

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to reverse critical improvements to the EPA’s chemical facility safety standards known as the Risk Management Program (RMP), or the “Chemical Disaster Rule.” The proposed changes attempt to eliminate the vast majority of the improvements made to the RMP, putting millions of people—particularly vulnerable populations of low-income communities and communities of color—at risk. The EPA is accepting public comments on these dangerous new changes. Written comments must be submitted to the regulatory docket by August 23.

How to submit a comment:

Go to the public comment page on Regulations.gov for the proposed policy (docket EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0890) and click on the “Comment Now!” button. Make sure all documents contain your name and contact information. Be sure to submit your comment by August 23, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. ET and check your email for a receipt confirmation. While a submission can be typed directly into the website, uploading a separate document may be easier for you edit, save, and submit.

Tips for writing a comment:

Remember that the most effective comments are thorough, unique, and specific. The public comment process allows scientists and the public to help agencies understand the full range of consequences of a proposed rule. Arguments made during this process are often used as evidence for any future court challenge.

Write concisely but provide the relevant details.
  • Describe any personal impact of the proposed rule:
  • If you are a scientist, technical expert, community member that lives near or works in a facility, first responder, or member of another impacted group, indicate this in the comment.
  • Use the online map in this report of chemical facility incidents to highlight any of the ~2,300 incidents from 2004-2013 and the most recent EPA incident data from 2014-1016 which identifies 458 incidents since EPA started working on the Rule.
  • It is not sufficient to simply disagree with the agency’s policy judgments; this is a qualitative exercise, not a poll. Explain why you disagree.
What to Address

The Obama Administration issued an Executive Order (EO) tasking key federal agencies with reviewing and improving their existing chemical safety programs. Before the rule was finalized, the EPA engaged in extensive outreach with all stakeholders including the chemical industries and the public. The Trump Administration put on hold the implementation of the new RMP regulations, and in the new proposal, it revokes important improvements to the program.

Address the benefits to public and worker health and safety provided by the 2017 RMP rule that the proposed rule eliminates. And address the potential negative impacts, the flaws in EPA’s justifications for its proposed changes of the proposed rule, overlooked impacts, and intended or unintended consequences. If you are a scientist or technical expert who has them available, attach key studies and research so they are on the record. The following are critical areas to address, and guidance on how to respond to these points.

The new rule:

  • Eliminates a requirement that the most dangerous facilities undertake a safer technology alternatives assessment.
  • Address the importance of industries seeking out solutions that pose less risk and danger to their employees and surrounding communities.
  • Removes a requirement that an “incident analysis” include determining the “root cause” of accidents and near-misses; that the team investigating an incident include at least one person knowledgeable in the process; and the requirement to include incident investigation reports in hazard reviews.
  • Highlight how root cause analyses, knowledgeable investigative teams, and documentation of investigations are critical to accountability.
  • No longer requires qualified, independent, third-party audits to be conducted when a facility has an incident to ensure the cause of the incident is addressed.
  • Speak to the importance of independent, third-party audits.
  • Strikes a provision that requires facilities to provide the public with information critical to understanding the potential risks from these facilities, including how to communities protect themselves and what potential health risks they might face from an incident.
Address how access to sources like emergency plans and contact information for coordinating officials in local government is helpful to personal and family plans should a chemical disaster occur.
Deletes the requirement that facilities provide emergency planners and first responders with essential information needed for responding to a chemical release allowing companies to claim “confidential business information,” and either provide limited or no information.

First responders and emergency personnel need information and better coordination between emergency responders and facilities with the potential for catastrophic damages.

Additional References
  1. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) recommendations on documenting and implementing the use of IST analysis and incident investigations.
  2. A 2016 report finds that people of color make up nearly one-half of the total population living within a one-mile “fenceline zone” near these dangerous facilities and are almost twice as likely as whites to live in these areas.
  3. A 2014 report shows that almost 135 million people live within “vulnerability zones” (the area potentially impacted by a worst case chemical release) of more than 3,400 of the highest-risk RMP facilities.
  4. Children are particularly vulnerable to the potential health impacts from exposure to toxic chemicals.
  5. The 2017 Arkema chemical facility disaster underscores the potential impact from the delay in imposing the 2017 RMP rule requirements.
  6. Comments submitted by several national security experts in support of the Chemical Disaster Rule.
  7. Report on the incidents since the delay of the Obama era rule.
  8. The background of the rule as well as the summary of proposed changes to understand the context of the agency’s current proposal.

More information: 

New Report: One Year In, EPA Chemical Rule Delay Allows Chemical Disasters to Continue

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